Amotekun, a masterstroke for this time
As part of a pragmatic response to the upsurge in criminal activities and the failure of the Nigeria Police to adequately confront the social nuisance that is kidnapping, the six governors in the Southwest decided to inaugurate Operation Amotekun, a security outfit, to assist in policing the six states in the region. Amotekun was launched in Ibadan recently with representatives of the participating states – Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Osun – in attendance.
The Nigeria Police, a critical stakeholder in internal policing, was absent. Police officials explained that there was no signal from the Police High Command that they should attend the event. Obviously, the exercise must have received tacit approval from the presidency given the fact some governors were invited to Abuja just before the launch.
But shortly after the exercise, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami curiously issued a notice stating that Amotekun contradicted the organic laws of the land. Since then, there has been a series of reactions and comments from different quarters. Presidential Adviser, Itse Sagay, professor of law, clearly controverted the AG when he encouraged the governors to ignore the attorney general’s directive. Whereas Malami stated that ‘‘no state government, whether singly or in a group has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organisation or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts,’’ Professor Sagay opined that ‘‘the governors have no business consulting Malami before coming up with the idea of how best to secure their states of origin.’’
These issues may have to be tested at the Supreme Court. Governors are the chief security officers of their states and it would amount to irresponsibility on their part to watch fellow citizens being slaughtered by the day by some foreigners who claim to be herdsmen. The governors have been helpless as toothless bulldogs: they can’t direct police commissioners in their states to carry out internal security roles. The commissioners are responsible to only the inspector general of police who is so far away – in the nation’s capital, no thanks to the complicated unitary system of government the people have been fighting to restore. Federalism was lost to military intervention in politics in 1966.
This newspaper, therefore, commends the governors for this timely and practical response to the menace of criminals and kidnappers masquerading as herdsmen. As a federation, we must begin to re-think and re-invigorate the existing security structure in the country. It is the failure of the proponents of a unitary form of government to understand the new dynamic that is holding back the country. The idea of central policing, which we had been saddled with contradicts the spirit of a federation. Besides, the federal attorney general opened himself to extreme ridicule by applying double standards to what he calls the law of the land. Which law of the land permits the Kano State Hisbah Corps and the Civilian Joint Task Force in Northeast Nigeria but rejects Amotekun in Southwest Nigeria? Mr. Malami needs to be reminded that he is not the lawmaker of Nigeria. He should at least respect the rights of states to secure life and property in their domains! The letter of the law Malami quoted in this instance is not stronger than the spirit of the same law, which provides that, “welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
Already, some persons have raised questions about the constitutional status of the security outfit and what relationship it would have with the Nigeria Police and other security agencies. The atmosphere of mutual suspicion often stifles opportunities for growth and innovation. This must not be the case with Operation Amotekun. Indeed, no fewer than 23 quasi-security outfits exist already across the country, addressing local needs. What the nation needs is a tinkering with the Constitution to make these agencies legal. The protagonists of Amotekun, a Yoruba word for leopard, have argued that they are not creating state or regional security force. What is more, five of the six governors in southwest states are of the governing party in the country, the APC. Where then is the source of trepidation in Abuja?
It will be recalled that from about 2017 the security situation in the country deteriorated terribly. Some Fulani herdsmen turned themselves into blood-hounding savages across the country. On the highways and on farms, these scoundrels were virtually ubiquitous. It turned out that other criminal elements took to crimes and presented themselves as Fulani. Kidnapping and robbery on our highways have become the order of the day. The bloody experiences of the Agatu massacres in Benue State in March 2016 are cases in point. At the height of the security challenge, retired Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma called on Nigerians to defend themselves because the Nigerian Army was not impartial. The Abuja-Kaduna highway became a no-go area for commuters without police escort. It is like that till date. Last July, some herdsmen killed 58 year-old Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Afenifere Chieftain, Pa Reuben Fasoranti on the highway between Akure and Ore. Abuja has not been spared the menace of kidnappings with impunity. It is against this background of a scary security situation that Southwest governors decided to act to defend their people.
It is true that some persons have expressed worry about the emergence of Amotekun, saying that it could lead to fragmentation of the country. The governors have made it clear that there is no such threat because they plan to work with the Nigeria Police. Lagos State has successfully recruited and operated men and women on quasi-security duties without threatening the unity of the country since inception of this democracy. The popular Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) always headed by retired senior police officers till date, has been a good case in point. Indeed, the Amotekun outfit, if properly managed, could serve as a model for other regional blocs to adopt. Without doubt, the current method of policing the country has failed woefully. Amotekun is in tandem with best practices in policing in most federal states even in global context.
Amotekun should be given a backing of law. To this end, the states should take the Operation Amotekun to their Houses of Assembly and enact a law to give it life. Modus operandi should be clearly worked out. Except we are playing the ostrich, it is common knowledge that private citizens and groups have been involved in securing lives and property. Hunters and other stakeholders should be recruited into the group. Policing is local. Once we get local policing right, the ugly spectacle of having foreign-looking scoundrels violate lives with impunity would come to an end.
The problem of Nigeria is simply that of failed leadership. The latter parts of 2018 through 2019 were horrendous days for Nigerians. The security forces became notoriously inefficient as lives were violated across the country. Indeed, there was pervasive perception that the Federal Government was somewhat complicit in the rapacious activities of Fulani terrorists masquerading as herdsmen. The president was not spared. The narrative was that he was soft on the criminals because of ethnic affinity. He never responded to accusations that the skewed composition of the heads of security and intelligence agencies was inimical to the overall interest of the country. If the Nigeria Police were effective, no one would entertain local security involvement. The government should read the writing on the wall. It is the duty of government to secure the people of the land. Nigerians do not have an iota of confidence in the Nigeria security forces.
If a former Army Chief of Staff could express that worry: that ‘‘we would die one by one,’’ if we could not resort to self-help, the time has come for the constituent parts of the federation to develop their own strategy for collective defence. Amotekun should be given a backing of the law and allowed to stay. Behold, the logic is simple. It is a harmless idea whose time has come – and the Federal Government should be humble enough to strengthen the masterstroke that can help in securing the nation. Who else will take the plaudit, after all apart from the commander-in-chief of the armed forces?